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What motivates #hcsmca members’ participation? An analysis of our Feb 4 chat

March 6, 2015

By Sarah Gilbert (@_sgilbert_)

headshot of Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert

It’s been a month since I co-hosted my first #hcsmca chat with Colleen in which we discussed and promoted my research on the #hcsmca community, in particular, what motivates people to participate, or not, in #hcsmca. Since last month’s chat, I’ve conducted interviews with #hcsmca community members (still recruiting), reviewed relevant literature, followed the hashtag and lurked on #hcsmca chats, and watched the live stream of the panel at #hccmty. But I’ve also taken time to reflect on our on February 4th (see transcript) discussion.

At Colleen’s suggestion, I copied the tweets from the chat into a spreadsheet and began by dividing them into two columns:

  • observations and thoughts on motivation
  • suggestions (such as publication venues and questions to ask during interviews)

As I organized the tweets into these categories, I noticed commonalities between community members’ observations and thoughts on motivation. To have a more solid grasp on what aspects of motivation were important to the community, I began to methodically review each tweet and assign a particular theme as I observed it. This is an analysis technique broadly known as content analysis and is often used in the social sciences when analyzing text. In total, I assigned 9 themes to 67 tweets – many of the tweets had more than one theme.

#hcsmca members mentioned a variety of aspects which motivated them to participate in the community. The most frequently mentioned motivator discussed in the chat was having a shared interest. What brings #hcsmca members to the chats is a common interest in a specific subject, and members wish to connect with others on the topic. The second most mentioned motivating aspect was access to diverse people and diverse perspectives (although this may be confounded by a sub-conversation on the role of diversity in communities, it is nonetheless an important aspect of participation). The third most frequently mentioned aspect was the media: that is, Twitter itself.

The affordances of Twitter allow people to discuss a topic of interest through a shared hashtag, provides a forum for synchronous conversations, and features like RT and favorites allow for immediate feedback and recognition. After media, building networks and relationships were also mentioned as motivating factors. These aspects were often mentioned in conjunction with other motivating factors, such common interests; for example, building networks was discussed as a way to access diverse perspectives on shared interests. The opportunity to learn from other members was also noted as a motivating factor, as was the importance of having a voice in the community. Finally, strong leadership and advocacy were highlighted as important motivating factors. See below for a pie chart of motivational factors discussed in the tweetchat.

pie chart of #hcsmca Feb 4 tweets

Here’s a word cloud of the sample of texts used to identify motivational themes. I removed the #hcsmca hashtag and all user names. Given our recent discussion on participant involvement in research:

  • Do you see any themes that emerge from the conversation?
  • Does the word cloud paint a different picture of the conversation than the pie chart?

Word cloud of #hcsmca Feb 4 chat

Another interesting component of the discussion was brought up by community member who inverted the question “why do people participate in online communities” by asking “why don’t people participate in online communities?”

In response, some members cited a lack of knowledge: both of the media itself and the benefits that people can attain from participating in communities, but many agreed that it can be difficult to find the time to participate in communities as fully, as broadly, and as often as they’d like.

I’ve already interviewed 9 community members who participate in #hcsmca in a variety of ways – from primarily listening, to peripheral participation, to leading discussions and to taking on leadership roles within the community. They’ve also told me about the many different reasons why they participate (or not). I’d like to thank those who have had the time to speak to me already – it’s been incredibly interesting for me to learn from you and I look forward to diving into the analyzing the interviews!

I’m still recruiting participants: my goal is to interview between 20-30 community members. Interested? Please email

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2015 9:34 am

    Interesting to see the difference which has emerged between the word cloud and the graph and how diversity stands out so much more in the latter. This is such fascinating work Sarah.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. March 7, 2015 3:40 pm

    Thanks, Marie! I was surprised by the differences too. I think it’s really interesting how different lenses can help us view the same information in different ways- it really highlights how important it is to try and see things from vary perspectives, otherwise you might miss something important or think something is more important than it actually is!

    Liked by 1 person

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